Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Art by one of my dude’s

The first time I heard this phrase was from my fifth grade teacher. I don’t know why I remember it.

She used to read out loud to us and each character had its own voice. It was the coolest thing.

One day a disagreement bubbled up about one of the stories she was reading us. I don’t remember what book it was or what caused the dispute. (The mind keeps what it wants.) But I remember her response.

She said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Do you know what that means?”

Wagging our heads in ignorance she explained that beauty can be determined by the individual. That we didn’t have to agree that the words in the story were beautiful. WOW! I didn’t even know I needed a new point of view. Who does at the age of 9 or 10?

It changed my world. Or better yet … it opened my world wide. It helped me know that art is the artist’s expression but beauty is the observer’s impression. I understand that beauty is as varied and unique as a sea of snowflakes just as we are all different.

Learning such a simple but powerful phrase allowed me to create my own definition of beauty. One that would no longer be limited by popular culture.

It was the start of me being able to decide what beauty looked like. Even I could be beautiful. A girl who didn’t look like “valued beauty”. A girl who didn’t look like Barbie. Even a girl like me could be beauty.

Amazing!

Fifth grade was the year I learned to not just accept everything as it was presented to me, but to challenge myself and my beliefs. It was the year I learned to not just enjoy our school outings to concerts, plays, and the ballet. I learned to search for the beauty and meaning in them. My beauty. What I valued.

Every year at Christmas we had a school field trip to see a production of the Nutcracker Ballet. To this day, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, is my favorite. But the fifth grade found me wonder what makes it so beautiful to me?

I still don’t know the answer to the question. Maybe the beauty in it was the possibility in it. You see I wanted to be a dancer back than. And I would imagine myself dancing in the Nutcracker.

I hold the memories in my heart like snapshots in a photo album.

Grateful doesn’t describe what I feel for the teacher who shared these words with me. Now I work at helping my boys find what beauty is to them. In our house we have a saying, “Don’t yuck my yum.” It started out a way of teaching our kids to appreciate others food choices but it extends beyond that.

Maybe you have your own phrase as well … feel free to share in the comments.

I am reading the book, Matched, by Ally Condie. A dystopian story where a government structure defines appropriate beauty:  100 poems, 100 songs, 100 books, 100 paintings … All for the sake of control and keeping order.

Could you imagine living in a world where you couldn’t create new artist’s expressions? Or, a world in which you couldn’t share an observer’s impression unless it’s the “appropriate” impression?

There certainly wouldn’t be a blogosphere for you to hang out in. If you’d like, share your favorite poem, song, book, painting, play, etc. that you’d miss if it was no longer available to you …

This post is a round about way of reminding us to value the beauty you see in the world even if no one else values the same thing.

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If I Were Being Stalked by a Serial Killer, I’d Be a Goner

Suzie Spoon - Serial Killer

Suzie Spoon – Serial Killer (Photo credit: What What)

I love routine. My movements could be easily mapped. My patterns of behavior would be predictable.

Each day of every week looks pretty much the same. Some of you are already thinking:  BORING. But I’m of the school of thought that structure can be liberating. It maybe infinitesimal but it’s liberating none the less.

I AM A CREATURE OF HABIT! And proud of it. But it would make me an easy mark.

Weekday mornings I am “Major Mom” barking out orders like a drill instructor:

  • Eat
  • Brush
  • Dress
  • Shoes
  • Bags
  • Car
  •  NOW.
  • Move

My kids like “routine” too even if they won’t admit it. Okay, honestly, I’m sure they’d prefer Mommy taking a less militant approach but this is the only one I’ve got. Anyway, they like knowing what to expect next. (My husband is the adventurous, no script required, one in our household.)

I take the same route to work every day … at the same times. If I have to make stops, I plan them so that I don’t have to deviate much.

Back-to-School this year has been torture because nothing is routine. Why?

I’ve spent most of the past year getting just me out the door. Sure I woke the boys and fed them and laid out their clothes but hubby handled getting them out the door (which is the hardest part). I was comfortable.

Now I am managing it all including drop offs. To a new school. That’s in a different direction. And Tuesdays and Thursdays are different than Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, thanks to 3 day a week kindergarten.

I am totally freaking out. It’s only been 4 days and we haven’t hit our stride which makes me weary.

Have you ever heard the 21-days-to-a-new-habit philosophy? You know, the theory that it takes 21 days of practicing something in order to forma new habit; for it to become automatic. It’s heavily touted in the world of motivation.

I’ve never made it to day 21 for any specific action or behavior that I wanted to make a habit. Mostly because I lose track; stop counting the days but keep practicing. Continued practice can lead to operating on autopilot. Let me be honest … I usually give up. Because I want results now … I don’t want to wait 21 days or longer.

I begin this new school year in the mode of trial and error which is driving me insane. Like pull my hair out, curl up in a ball, and suck my thumb, kind of crazy.

Best routes from the new school to work? I don’t know. Not yet. Best path with the least traffic to the new school from home? Not sure. Yet. Best way to get back to school and pick up the dudes? No, idea. At least, not yet.

There is one plus in all this uncertainty:  I am safe from any would be stalkers. Each day has been different.

Like yesterday morning when my youngest said, “I forgot my water battle in Daddy’s car.”
To which I replied, “You left it at home?”
“No. I left it in Daddy’s car.”
“Which is at home. Do you really need it?”
“Yes,” through tears.

I went back to the house to get it. Why? Because he’s already struggling with starting kindergarten and this gave him peace of mind. Because that’s the kind of mom I am. Because, like I said, I’m crazy.

Or, like Wednesday when we had to go by the sitters to pick up the new hoodie my youngest left there because he needed it for the first day of school. “It’s part of my uniform.” It didn’t matter that it was already 80 degrees out. We took the detour to get it.

Take that serial stalker … you’ll have to wait a few months for me to figure out my routine. Then you can pick the best spot to nab me. Okay … seriously … I prefer not to be stalked or killed or kidnapped.

Alright, fess up. What routines are you not willing to let go of? What habits do you wish you could keep the same but are forced into changing? I can’t be the only one bordering on the obsessive compulsive.

 

Reading to My Children, Books They Love to Pieces …

My husband and I have been reading to our children since the womb. We would crawl into bed and choose from a stack of rhyming books to read my rounded tummy.

When my husband read he could usually illicit movement as a response, a kick or punch. Sometimes there would be a somersault or full body stretch.  One of the things I loved most about pregnancy.

Our oldest son, at birth would try to turn toward my husband’s voice because he knew it so well. It was amazing to see a swaddled baby turn his head in the direction of his Daddy’s voice.

We received a copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom as a baby shower gift. A sing song story about the alphabet which I still have memorized to this day. Its bright colored pages took us from womb to tummy time. We would prop it up in front of him while he lay on his tummy. I would read it to him while he played in his bouncy seat.

As a toddler the book went with him everywhere as a constant companion; it was always under his arm. He carried it to and from the sitters. We eventually had to buy a copy to keep at her place. He carried it to Grandma’s house. He held on his lap during car rides. We had to read it every night at bedtime. This is how he learned his alphabet.

Here’s his third (well worn-well read) copy:

We had to buy our youngest son his own copy to destroy. And since we’d changed sitters we had to buy a new copy for her daycare library. So we’ve paid retail for this book at least 6 times, I’ve lost count. Crazy? No.

Reading to our boys is a joy, not just for them but for us as well. They still find comfort in hearing the sound of our voices as we experience new or favorite stories together. It’s humbling really.

It’s not just reading the words but finding ways to make the words come alive for them. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is more fun if it’s read (or recited in my case) with drama. Reading out loud is like performance art (think Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam). Reading is NOT boring and I want my boys to understand that. When my oldest says, “I can see it playing like a movie in my head,” I know we’ve done our best by the author’s words.

Transitioning from rhyming books to picture books and now chapter books has been a wonderful journey. Watching my oldest read to my youngest fills me with a sense of pride and peace.

Here’s what on their bookshelf right now …

I love it when they laugh at the funny parts. I am thankful when they are empathetic to characters’ embarrassments, disappointments, and triumphs. Their comprehension is evident when I hear them tell the storyline to others.

We are reading, The Genius Files:  Mission Unstoppable, which I feel is too mature for them. But it just means we can have conversation to unlock the mystery of what they don’t know.

No matter what … my boys understand that words have power. And they love a good story. They know good stories are meant to be shared through voices of love.

What about you? … What are the books from your childhood that fell apart because you read them so much? Is there a book that you always have a copy of on your bookshelf?

Summer Reading …

As summer approaches, I am preparing a summer reading plan for my boys which will include:

  • Trips to the book store and library.
  • Books for Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) or quiet time as we call it.
  • Books for bedtime (we won’t need to go through the process of picking books each night.)

Our goal is to motivate our oldest to read independently and not just for function. By function I mean: I can find what I want to watch on TV but that’s the extent of my reading. At one point he told us, “I didn’t read it. I just recognized the words.” Yes, well, that is reading.

We’ve discussed as a family that it’s time to move to CHAPTER BOOKS. And of course the boys think that means NO pictures but that’s not entirely true. Anyway, it’s decided. This summer we will read chapter books.

I was so excited because I couldn’t wait to share with my boys the books I read at their age. It was going to be great. I’d have these nostalgic moments with my kids. We would read some of my favorites:

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station

 

  • Paddington Bear
  • Ralph P. Mouse
  • Encyclopedia Brown

The boys wouldn’t necessarily be able to read these on their own yet but definitely great to cover a chapter each night at bedtime. We would be making new memories around some of my childhood loves.

Imagine my surprise when my oldest said, “Those don’t look good at all.” WHAT? How can he think that? I was at a loss. I started campaigning for my favorites which just led to bigger resistance. I was convinced I’d win them over. How selfish I was being!

I had to get over it. It’s not about me. It’s about them. I want my boys to have a love of reading which means I have to find things that interest them.

I started the great hunt. Had lots of conversation with the boys, my husband, and other parents who have kids in the same age range. Here’s what my husband and I agreed to explore:

  • Magic Tree House Series
  • Geronimo Stilton Series
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series
  • Big Nate Series

I’m open to others if you know of any that would interest kids who love:  action and adventure, science, dinosaurs, superheroes …

And then there is the other category. Bodily Functions. The response I get from other parents is interesting and sometimes funny when I mention the following titles. Keep in mind I am trying to meet my boys where they are … and they laugh about bodily functions … They are typical kids. So we will consider:

Cover of "Sweet Farts"The first Captain Underpants book.

  • Sweet Farts Series (Yes, “farts” it’s not a typo)
  • Captain Underpants Series
  • Stink Series

I don’t know what I will learn or appreciate about these books but if my boys will read it … I need to at least be open to it. I’ll keep telling myself:  IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.

Last night, I unveiled the official list and we went to the bookstore to make final choices. My seven year old said, “Those all look great Mommy! You’re awesome. Thanks!” Mission accomplished. He picked Magic Tree House (Book 19) – Tigers at Twilight. My five year old picked, Big Nate – In a Class by Himself; the thickest on the list.

Reading is fundamental and for me a way of escape. I learned so much about the world and my place in it from the pages of books. I learned to find answers to my questions and definitions. Books are doors to a lot of things. And, I want that for my boys.

This morning I got what I want. Both boys woke up and picked up their books instead of being glued to the TV. It made me proud and happy and excited for the worlds we will discover together.

This evening we purchased 2 books from the bodily functions category. Let the reading commence!

So I still get to have nostalgic moments but instead of them being tied to specific books … they will be tied to the love of reading.